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'Privilege' question. Is 'Privilege' all disadvantages, and how do people rank them (if at all)?

(29 Posts)
Lanark2 Mon 14-Mar-16 19:11:02


This is a serious thing that has been interesting/troubling me re 'privilege'.

The origin was a discussion I had with a female social worker, qualified, relatively high waged, educated etc, who was arguing with a white anti-fascist that he was more privileged than her. At the time I understood 'privilege' to be as in 'toff' rather than the socio-economic term, but has always interested me why it seemed that she viewed poor, working class white male as still privileged compared to her, even though she was wealthier with a professional career.

I've been thinking about it, and I guess it's going to get a different answer on a feminist forum, but how do you think the relative privilege s should be considered?

I guess white, male, wealthy, 'first' world, landed might be most privileged, but then is it female, wealthy, first world, landed etc, or would say 'black, wealthy .. Etc.. Do you see what I mean?.. Ie is Obama more privileged than say a middle class white american, and Michelle one step less privileged or is Michelle less privileged than a middle class man?

I'm not sure I'm explaining this well, but is say Mary Beard privileged by being middle class academic or less Privileged by being a woman?

SpeakNoWords Mon 14-Mar-16 19:15:49

I'm not an academic at all, but surely it's more complex than a simple "privilege sum"? It must depend on the context and the society that the person is in.

GreenTomatoJam Mon 14-Mar-16 20:44:16

As Speak says - there's not some magical privilege number that can be arrived at - it can depend on the context - all your privileges/disadvantages pull in different directions, they don't bump you up and down some kind of privilege ladder.

This isn't some kind of game where the least privileged gets to pick where you have lunch - privilege is either a device to help you think about things, or a device to shut down discussion, depending on how it's used.

InvictusVersinium Mon 14-Mar-16 20:47:43

Look up "oppression Olympics" for a view in this type of conversation.

Shallishanti Mon 14-Mar-16 21:50:15

obviously a lot depends on the context, you could imagine situations where the white w-c guy would be privileged compared to the female sw. But I think she was being disingenuous to claim that she was, overall, less privileged than her, I wonder what he made of it.

WilLiAmHerschel Tue 15-Mar-16 08:46:32

I agree that it depends upon context. A poor, uneducated white working class man in the UK will generally have less privileges than a black, educated, wealthy woman. On the other hand, he is much less likely to be a victim of racism and of sexism making him more privileged in other ways. Even that's too simplistic I think. Tbh I think there's nothing more tedious than a race to the bottom of the oppressed barrel. If it's being used to explain or illustrate a point it can be useful but I am seeing it more and more used to shut down debate.

MyCrispBag Tue 15-Mar-16 19:07:27

This is quite a good basic analogy for how I understand privilege as it is currently used -

I see it as a bit more nuanced than that though. That analogy doesn't account for how those with 'privilege' often indirectly benefit from the 'oppression' of those without it.

I got into an online debate some time ago regarding Britains responsibility to its ex-colonies. I found 'privilege' to be a particularly useful concept in that debate.

0phelia Tue 15-Mar-16 20:45:43

IMO Male privilege is based in biology, in that men are taller, stonger, they do not fall pregnant and therefore are less vulnerable, men do not menstruate for a week every month, do not have the same gender-based opression that women have and their goals are more easily within reach, while women have more obstacles.

White privilege is more socio-economic. If you are white, you are far more likely (Not guaranteed) to have been born into decent education, comfortable circumstances. In the west, BME ppl are unfairly treated as "lesser" or "token". And BME ppl have more to overcome in a socio-political sense, no biological sense.

In the UK to be a white man from a poor background, goals are easier to acheive than a BME person or woman from a poor background.

To be wealthy, whether Male, female, white or BME, you are still far more privileged. White wealthy man trumps all.

Lanark2 Tue 15-Mar-16 21:13:12

So does that mean wealthy short black female from working class background is more privileged than poor tall white middle class background, because most lifestyle goals development goals and education/professional goals are much easier to achieve with wealth than with poverty?

scallopsrgreat Tue 15-Mar-16 21:21:09

Why are you so keen to rank oppression?

I think listening to those who suffer oppression especially multiple oppressions is the easiest way of discerning which affects them most.

Lanark2 Tue 15-Mar-16 22:15:57

Yes but when some people do this it seems they are sort of silenced.. Eg if an educated white male is homeless, o know that some people still say he has privilege versus say a gay highly paid Indian professional, so it feels confusing as that seems not to make instinctive sense, so I understand the 'oleanna' idea of dripping while male academic privilege, but say the academics wife in she privileged as she benefits hugely ..more than many women in the world.. From academic tenure (that they don't get of course) or is she not privileged because this is dependent wealth, so therefore behind even poor working class black males iyswim..

Lanark2 Tue 15-Mar-16 22:18:45

And I also get 'easy for white british person to visit US and Europe and be assumed part of 'wealthy' but then white British poor person who can't afford to leave resident town, is this really more privileged than black person who can.. Ie is it potential for automatic privilege if wealth gives opportunity or is wealth irrelevant?

Oh I am confusing myself!

almondpudding Tue 15-Mar-16 23:07:24

You're confused because you are trying to understand something nonsensical.

Here are the problems with the social justice warrior use of privilege...

1. It conflates itself with the old meaning of privilege that referred to privileges held by a tiny elite in society, thus removing the language used to identify the existence and impact of a super rich group who hold most of the power.

2. It fails to make a distinction between advantages that can only be held a tiny number (such as being an academic or highly paid professional) which are privileges, with access to a decent education, which is a basic human right. Being able to access to basic human rights is not a privilege.

3. It frames ideas in a language which is not conducive to thinking in a compassionate manner. For example, referring to homeless people or genocide victims as privileged.

4. It frames power and influence of individuals as being defined by 'privilege' based on identity politics rather than the power and influence a person actually has! Social workers have a huge amount of power over other people's lives on behalf of the state.

InvictusVersinium Tue 15-Mar-16 23:16:12

Almond privilege is not nonsensical. It is subjective and complex and therefore some construed hierarchy of privilege is ridiculous.

Privilege is very much about power and not just identity politics.

Oprah Winfrey may be very low on the identity privilege but given that she was (or is) the wealthiest woman in the USA, she has tremendous socio-economic privilege and subsequently, great power.

almondpudding Tue 15-Mar-16 23:58:04

Oprah Winfrey being one of the richest people in the world is neither complex not subjective.

InvictusVersinium Wed 16-Mar-16 02:16:28

Nor is it nonsense. I gave a simple example. Others have given more nuanced.

MyCrispBag Wed 16-Mar-16 08:21:13


I think you make a fair point regarding the word. As the OP demonstrates it probably isn't fit for purpose. It's too flimsy and open to interpretation. Even though I find it a useful concept the word rarely comes out of my mouth when discussing these things and I never use it online as it is used so variably there really is no point.

BertrandRussell Wed 16-Mar-16 08:31:34

It's important to remember that Oprah Winfrey is an exception among incredibly wealthy influential people. Twice exceptional. There are always outliers. And so is Obama. And Margaret Thatcher. And the highly educated homeless man someone mentioned.

When looking at privilege in terms of class of people (not socio-economic class, I mean class as group or type) you really have to disregard the outliers at both ends.

JaWellNoFine Wed 16-Mar-16 08:48:08

In SA there is a term 'Previously disadvantaged' which is a good way of explaining what privilege isn't.

It is hard to tell people who cannot feed their families and are struggling to survive that they are privileged and the woman next to them, driving the latest car and living in a mansion, is not privileged. I.e. is hard done by...

However I agree with Almond in that it's the wrong word to use as it implies existing privilege and that really should be reserved for those who are truly privileged.

I also think that this concept of privilege in todays society can actually be negative for all. If you are deemed privileged your successes are somewhat diminished. If you are not deemed privileged you have an automatic 'out' clause where your failures can be blamed on others. Both are unhealthy for society.

InvictusVersinium Wed 16-Mar-16 09:33:42

Bertrand somehow my point was lost. Yes, there are outliers and yes, Oprah is an outlier - which is at the heart of my point - Oprah has privilege and it is not defined by her political identities (born and raised as a poor African American Woman) but rather by her power. No one would argue that Oprah isn't privileged.

almond said this:
It frames power and influence of individuals as being defined by 'privilege' based on identity politics rather than the power and influence a person actually has!

I disagree with this - the concept of privilege as I think of it takes power into consideration, surely, otherwise it is nonsense!

I do agree that privilege is a weak word but I don't know where the definitions that almond is using are from - I've never heard anyone say that a genocide victim is privileged confused

There are terms like capital - social capital, cultural capital, economic capital - couldn't those be used in lieu of "privilege"? Perhaps they are a bit more robust.

And the examples given on this thread are largely individuals and trying to work out some "privilege sum" which is why I gave an individual example.

I think that speaknowords and greentomatojam gave good answers (the first two) - better than what I am saying.

InvictusVersinium Wed 16-Mar-16 09:43:17

If you are deemed privileged your successes are somewhat diminished.

Erm, yes, as it should be - we do not live in a meritocracy.

Having privilege confers advantage that those without privilege do not have.

Exposing this advantage is the only way to begin to work towards any type of equality or egalitarianism.

In those who aren't successful or who are less successful it is very easy to see confirmation of stereotype rather than recognising the consequences of discrimination.

This is the difference:

StrawberryQuik Wed 16-Mar-16 16:53:37

I think it depends on the situation...

Everyday examples from DH (Asian) and I (white woman)...tradespeople will always give DH proper explanations of what they are doing and kind of ignore me but when we go to a gig or whatever DH has every little thing taken out of his bag whereas mine gets a cursory glance.

On a personal level I think it makes it much easier for us to talk about feminism as he has experienced discrimination too.

JaWellNoFine Wed 16-Mar-16 19:18:13

Being deemed privileged and actually being privileged are not the same thing. So no. It's not the way it should be.

This concept of Privilege simply reinforces racial and other stereotypes.
Dd's best friend is not privileged but is white. Her acheivements should be celebrated as much as any other person. Why should they not?
DD is privileged but is dyslexic. Do her acheivements not count. DS is privileged with ASD. I suppose his acheivements don't count either.
You see where it falls apart?
We are all individiuals ..
I understand privilege as a concept. I just don't agree with how it is determined or the associated guilt we are all supposed to be feeling.

LassWiTheDelicateAir Wed 16-Mar-16 20:48:47

I was looking back at the "would you like to be a man thread". There are a few posts such as the one below which seem to be assuming an inherent privilege just for being a man e.g

"I'm happy being me, so I'd not want to change now, but given the choice of being born male or female I'd go for male every time. "

Which was seconded by at least one poster.

I was told quite early on in my time here that all men have more privilege than me; which struck me as nonsense.

BertrandRussell Wed 16-Mar-16 21:00:39

I think one of the basic problems with this sort of discussion is that we don't distinguish properly between "classes" and "individuals". Just because, for example, an individual woman in her own particular circumstances doesn't feel disadvantaged doesn't
mean women as a group arenmt.

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